The Book on the Bookshelf

Henry Petroski, Professor of Engineering and Professor of History at Duke University, is a master at "humanizing" engineering by writing about the history and development of familiar objects such as paperclips and pencils. He seems to relish the challenges involved in writing engagingly to non-engineers about some of the most mundane objects in everyday life - things that we take for granted.

The Looking Glass

Artist David Hockney has a theory that some of the "old master" portrait painters secretly used cameras(!) to help them sketch their subjects. No, he's not saying that they had Polaroids or film. However, the camera obscura was available in the early 18th century, and the more practical camera lucida was invented in 1807. Did the great artists use these devices?

Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything

I bought "Faster" because of talent the author had shown for rendering extremely complicated science for the interested layperson. "Chaos", published in 1987 was a wonderful book, and Gleick's next one, "Genius: The Life and Times of Richard Feynman", also won a National Book Award. (I haven't read that one, however.) "Faster" is a good book, but was nevertheless something of a disappointment.

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

As soon as I heard about "Consilience", I figured it would likely be a "Pick of the Month", but I delayed buying it until it became available as a paperback through a book club (I buy just about all the books that appear in this column). This, the most recent book by the renowned Harvard entomologist E. O. Wilson, was worth waiting for.

What Remains To Be Discovered: Mapping the Secrets of the Universe, the Origins of Life, and the Future of the Human Race

A year ago, a book entitled "The End of Science" by John Horgan claimed that there was nothing of significance left for science to uncover. It was not a "Hal's Pick" because I thought it was seriously mistaken, echoing the smug predictions of a century ago, just before the revolutions of quantum mechanics and relativity blew the lid off of classical science.

Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen

Some of the most incendiary minds of science have also verged on pathology; a few of them clearly have been mentally ill. Cliff Pickover describes the quirks and eccentric behaviors of some of these people, including Nikola Tesla (Chapter 1!), Oliver Heaviside, Richard Kirwan, Henry Cavendish, Francis Galton, and Theodore Kaczynski, among others.